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TV Notes
On The Air Tonight
SATURDAY Network Primetime/Late Night Options
(All shows are in HD unless noted; start times are ET. Late night shows are preceded by late local news)

8PM - College Football: Oregon at Oregon State (LIVE)

8PM - The Flight Before Christmas (2008)
9PM - The Story of Santa Claus (Special)
(R - Dec. 4, 1996)
10PM - 48 hours

8PM - The National Dog Show (120 min.)
(R - Nov. 27)
10PM - Saturday Night Live (Ben Affleck hosts; N.E.R.D. performs)
* * * *
11:29PM - Saturday Night Live (Chris Rock hosts; Prince performs, 93 min.)
(R - Nov. 1)

8PM - Bones
(R - Dec. 6)
9PM - Slepy Hollopw
(R - Nov. 24)
* * * *
11PM - Animation Domination High-Def (60 min.)

(check your local listing for starting time/programming)
8PM - Austin City Limits: Juanes; Jesse & Joy (R - Oct. 5, 2013)

8PM - Sábado Gigante (Three Hours)

7PM - Yo Soy El Artista (120 min.)
(R - Nov. 23)
9PM - Movie - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
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post #98102 of 98106 Old Yesterday, 11:45 PM
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TV Sports
Al Michaels, Known for a Miracle, Reflects on His Luck
By Richard Sandomir, The New York Times

Al Michaels was at a hotel restaurant in Manhattan one day last week, talking about John Madden and Cris Collinsworth, as well as John Wooden and Ken Dryden.

His iPhone and his flip phone were on the table. A tuna burger was on his plate. There were no vegetables. He hates them. He has ordered onion soup without the onions to prove his point.

It was a day after New England’s 42-20 defeat of Indianapolis, the latest blowout on a “Sunday Night Football” schedule that has had its past eight games decided by 22, 41, 20, 21, 25, 27, 26 and 21 points.

“Only happens every week, every seven days,” Michaels said. “Last night, it was more like triple overtime — we got to the middle of the third before it got out of hand. I can’t think of one game where we went to the last two minutes and I could say, ‘Here’s how the coaches have to deal with timeouts.’ ”

Six days later, he got his wish: The Dallas Cowboys beat the Giants, 31-28, scoring the winning touchdown with a little more than a minute left to play. The highlight of the game, a spectacular one-handed catch by Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. while he was falling backward in the end zone, had presciently been preceded two plays earlier by video from the pregame warm-ups of Beckham practicing one-handed catches.

“I only wish I had said, ‘Bend it like Beckham,’ ” Michaels said Monday by telephone.

It was another moment in a nearly 50-year career for a supremely confident play-by-play announcer with bite and sophistication who likes to sneak in references to betting lines and politics.

As his breezy new autobiography, “You Can’t Make This Up,” suggests, his career has had plenty of flow and serendipity.

He grew up in Brooklyn admiring Vin Scully and followed the Dodgers west in October 1958, when he was 14 and his family moved to Los Angeles. His father, Jay, who started the sports division for the MCA talent agency, was instrumental in signing the American Football League to its first television deal with ABC — introducing his oldest child to Curt Gowdy in the process.

When Dick Enberg left as the television announcer of U.C.L.A. basketball in 1973, Michaels replaced him.

With one hockey game on his résumé, Michaels was tapped by ABC to call the hockey at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. With one line, he secured his place in history, giving rise to the miracle-on-ice nickname for the Americans’ victory over the Soviets.

Familiar with the Bay Area through his love of geography and his time as a San Francisco Giants announcer, Michaels shifted from baseball to narrating the destruction caused by the earthquake that interrupted the 1989 World Series. And after calling Olympic track and field in 1984 with O. J. Simpson, Michaels spoke to Simpson by telephone three or four times a decade later when he was a suspect in the murders of his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

“Someone said to me before I wrote this book,” Michaels said, “that your life is like Forrest Gump’s.”

Each man had an influential mother. Lila Michaels appeared about a half-dozen times at her son’s high school to tell an administrator that he had a dentist appointment, a ruse to spirit him (and sometimes one or two of his friends) to Santa Anita or Hollywood Park. His mother told The Los Angeles Times in 1988 that she had done that only once, but Michaels said Monday, with a chuckle, “I have witnesses!”

As he warmed to the memory of his mother last week, he pushed his chair back from the table.

“She was a combination of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers,” he said. “She was always the life of the neighborhood, in our apartment building in Brooklyn, our neighborhood in Bellmore and in Los Angeles. My friends just loved her. She was hysterical and did things other mothers didn’t. She told dirty jokes. The other mothers weren’t like my mom.”

When asked if she had worked outside the home, Michaels smiled as he recollected her career as a contestant coordinator for game shows in the 1960s and ’70s but said he regretted not having put that in his book.

It would have been a neat parallel to his short career in game shows, in which he worked two stints for the producer Chuck Barris sandwiched around a short and unhappy time as the color commentator for Lakers games on the radio in 1967, when there was no color and no commentary. Chick Hearn relegated him to reading halftime statistics.

“My mother worked on ‘Win Lose or Draw’ and ‘Joker’s Wild’ — she worked with Jack Barry and did stuff for Goodson-Todman,” Michaels said, referring to Barry, a game show host known for the “Twenty One” rigging scandal, and the production team of Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. “Up until a couple of years ago, when I’d go around the country, people she’d put on these shows would say to me, ‘Al, your mother got us our dining room set,’ or, ‘Al, your mother got us our dishwasher.’ ”

Another character — Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an early creation of Walt Disney’s that had been acquired by Universal — was reported to have been part of the 2006 trade that sent Michaels to Universal-owned NBC from Disney-owned ESPN, where “Monday Night Football” had moved from ABC. Michaels did not like the direction ESPN was headed with “Monday Night” and wanted to follow Madden and the production team to NBC, which had acquired the rights to “Sunday Night Football.”

“I know it’s fun to write about the rabbit,” Michaels said. “But the deal was already done, and I didn’t want to be the center of attention. Someone came up with the idea that the Disney heirs wanted this rabbit. At the end of the day, everybody was in agreement that some people in the press will think there is some nefarious thing about my breaking a contract. So the rabbit was thrown in. It was fun, but the deal was done, and Oswald or no Oswald, I’m at NBC for the past nine years.”

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Legendary Mexican comedian Roberto Gomez Bolanos dies
By Rafael Romo, - Nov. 28, 2014

To the world, he was known as "Chespirito." Roberto Gomez Bolanos gained fame as a comedian, but he was also a writer, actor, screenwriter, songwriter, film director and TV producer.

The legendary entertainer died Friday at the age of 85 at his home in Cancun, Mexico. A native of Mexico City, Gomez Bolanos had been living in the resort town for the last few years due to health problems.

He leaves behind his wife, Florinda Meza, also an actress and comedian, and six children from a previous marriage.
Gomez Bolanos' death was confirmed by Televisa, the Mexican media conglomerate where he spent most of a career that spanned more than four decades, mainly on television.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto expressed his condolences. "Mexico has lost an icon whose work has transcended generations and borders," the President said on his Twitter account.

According to his official biography, Gomez Bolanos got his nickname from a film director who, after reading something he'd written, dubbed him "a little Shakespeare." The term was later adapted to the more Spanish-friendly Chespirito. The fact that he was only 5 feet 2 inches tall (1.6 meters) reinforced the nickname.

Fellow actor and comedian Edgar Vivar called Gomez Bolanos "the best writer of Spanish-language television."

Vivar, who played several Chespirito's characters, said that part of Gomez Bolanos' genius was "that he wrote (TV shows) based on the individual actor's or actress' acting ability," which allowed for better and funnier comedy situations.

His son Roberto Gomez Fernandez, also a TV producer, said his father had "an extraordinary knowledge of human nature in many respects," which allowed his TV shows to be translated into multiple languages without losing their comedic impact.

"His ultimate intention was to entertain audiences in a wholesome way," Gomez Fernandez said of his father, who never used profanity or situations not appropriate for children on his shows or movies.

Gomez Bolanos was born in 1929. According to his official biography, his father was a painter, sketch artist and newspaper illustrator. Though trained as an engineer, Chespirito never worked as one, choosing instead to write for TV and radio shows and screenplays starting in the mid-1950s.

By 1968, Gomez Bolanos was already writing for his own show, and by 1971, he had developed two of his most famous TV characters.

In "El Chapulin Colorado" ("The Red Grasshopper"), Chespirito dressed in a red bodysuit and wore vinyl antennae. A parody of superheroes like Batman and Superman, the Red Grasshopper had certain powers, like the ability to shrink.

"El Chavo del Ocho" ("The Boy from Number Eight") was an orphan boy from a working-class Mexico City neighborhood.

By 1973, both TV series were popular throughout Latin America.

"While the parents of my friends went to work building houses or to hospitals or attorneys' offices, my dad would dress in all red, wore antennae and went to work," Gomez Fernandez said. "It was kind of normal to me. As I grew up, I started to realize how relevant his work was."

Televisa said Chespirito's TV shows "were watched in Mexico, just like they were watched in Brazil, Thailand or Russia." According to Televisa, "El Chavo del Ocho" has been dubbed into 50 languages.

Chespirito's last show was produced in 1995, but his catchphrases and sayings continue to be part of Mexican culture. El Chapulin Colorado has also been profiled in the American TV series "The Simpsons."

His first message on Twitter on May 28, 2011, was "siganme los buenos," or "follow me, those of you who are good," a phrase that he constantly used on his shows and that many people still use in Mexico and elsewhere.

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TV Notes
TV seems to know what you want to see; algorithms at work
By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times

Your TV is inside your mind.

It knows what you watch. More than that, it knows how you watch. When you pause a program, your TV is taking notes. When you rewind or fast-forward, the machine jots that down too.

But here's maybe the scariest part of all: Your TV knows what you want, maybe even before you do.

This is where technology has led us. The algorithms that spit out online recommendations for television series, movies and more are taking artificial intelligence to a new level. Top providers such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon — which tens of millions of Americans get either through set-top boxes such as Roku or via personal computers — employ large engineering teams dedicated to cracking the code of what users want and guiding them to it.

Nothing less than the future of the entertainment business is at stake, as the industry continues its landmark shift from broadcasting to time-shifting and niche programming.

"You can use algorithms and user interfaces to get the right content to the right person … as opposed to just throwing something to the airwaves with a hope and a prayer," said Todd Yellin, vice president of product innovation at Netflix, which has at least 60 staff members devoted to recommendations. Already, he added, such research has proved that many of the categories that have guided the TV industry for decades — such as statistics about viewers' age and gender — are meaningless in terms of determining what people actually watch.

Most recommendation systems are based on what's known as "collaborative filtering," a mathematical process that can sort large data sets into groups that share certain affinities or characteristics. That information can then be used to offer viewing advice — based not on what a friend or a critic might think, as in the past, but rather on what many other users with similar taste have chosen over many visits to a site.

For example, if you watch "Downton Abbey" on Amazon, the recommendation service might suggest you try "Cranford," a series starring Judi Dench about life in a small British village during the Victorian era. That is because the algorithm has determined that many viewers who match your taste and viewing habits and have watched "Downton" often go on to watch and like "Cranford."

It might sound simple. But computerized recommendations are an imperfect and still-developing area of research with a lot of flaws (more about those in a minute). And yet companies keep at it because of the potential payoff.

"We are always looking at ways to improve and evolve our algorithms and recommendation engine," said Tian Lim, Hulu's chief technology officer.

Why the devotion? Netflix, which has more than 50 million subscribers worldwide, says about half of all its viewing comes from recommendations. At Hulu — which has more than 6 million subscribers for its paid Hulu Plus service — the figure is closer to 75%. Netflix takes the mission to improve recommendations so seriously that several years ago it held a contest with a $1-million prize to whomever could best improve its system (a team of AT&T researchers won).

Michael Ekstrand, a recommendations expert and computer-sciences professor at Texas State University, said that such systems may be far from perfect but that they are good enough to affect business already and getting better all the time. "They can result in a substantial lift in peoples' movie-watching [and] purchasing," he said.

The ultimate goal is to get so good at predicting what customers want that, in the not-too-distant future, a TV show or movie calibrated precisely to that person's taste and habits will start playing whenever someone logs on to a site.

Businesses have been trying to harness the power of predictive statistics for decades. Long before computers became commonplace, marketers were comparing hard copies of sales charts and statistical tables in a bid to forecast buying trends, Ekstrand said.

Modern online recommendations began in 1992, when two American computer scientists, John Reidl and Paul Resnick, developed a tool that collected user ratings to suggest articles on Usenet, an Internet discussion system.

During the first dot-com wave in the late 1990s, tech startups seized on collaborative filtering as a way to stand out from competitors. Amazon began offering an algorithm-based recommendation service in 1998, just a few years after the company launched (an Amazon spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment).

Netflix has been recommending movies and TV shows to subscribers since the days when it was best known for shipping red envelopes with DVDs through the mail.

Now it's a giant of streamed entertainment, not to mention a producer of acclaimed series such as "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black."

"We daily process billions and billions of [data] entries to come up with the recommendations for every single session, and the algorithms are quite sophisticated," said Carlos Gomez Uribe, an MIT-trained statistician who serves as vice president of innovation at Netflix.

It's all part of the company's push to expand its global subscriber count, which this year sailed past 50 million.

And keeping those customers happy as well as luring new ones are key to its business: In October, Netflix stock was hit hard after the company missed its growth targets.

Since recommendations are often the first thing a subscriber sees when he or she logs on to Netflix, "putting that right foot forward is important to us, and that's why we invest so much to get it right," Yellin said.

Of course, if algorithms could reliably decipher and predict human preferences all the time, every TV show would be a smash hit. But collaborative filtering has plenty of blind spots and glitches.

One problem is what is known as the "gray sheep." That is a nonconformist whose taste is hard to compare with that of other people. Sometimes she likes what other "Downton Abbey" fans like. But sometimes she doesn't. She's impossible to pigeonhole. Algorithms have a difficult time accounting for such people.

Another unsolved problem involves new users, about whom the computer simply doesn't have enough data about behavior to make any useful recommendations.

Of course, the user can always answer a list of questions about what sort of TV shows or movies he likes. But that leads to another problem, what might be called the self-reporting bias. People tend to report an idealized view of their own behavior, while what they actually do is another matter.

"They may say, 'Yeah, I like these serious dramas,' but they go watch a bunch of comedies," Ekstrand said. "That stated preference might be aspirational. The user wants to be the kind of person who enjoys watching Scorsese movies."

Netflix learned early on about the problem of self-reporting. But during the glory days of DVDs, the company had little data to go on besides a list of the titles the customers ordered and — assuming they actually bothered to offer their input — the star ratings they gave to movies or TV shows. The company didn't even know whether customers had actually watched the DVDs they returned.

That's all changed.

"With streaming, obviously, we have a ton more data," Uribe said. "We know when you fast-forward, when you pause, whether you re-watch it, how much of it you watched and so on."

That means, he said, more information for the algorithms, which are getting ever more precise at tailoring to each user.

Of course, algorithms aren't always the way to go. HBO offers its original series and a small selection of theatrical movies on its popular HBO Go streaming service. Sometimes the network will hand-pick certain titles for a certain seasonal theme, such as a recent roundup of programming for Veterans Day.

But it leaves algorithms out of it — a choice made easier because HBO has a much smaller library than Netflix and is collecting programs that have already run on the cable network.

"Instead of an algorithmic approach to recommendations, we do more active curation of programming on HBO Go, which enables us to choose featured content based on what we believe users will be likely to enjoy and what's important right now," an HBO spokeswoman wrote in an email.

But the companies that rely on algorithms believe that such recommendation systems are only in their infancy. In the future, users may indeed feel that the machine is reading their mind and knows exactly what they want to see.

Netflix's Yellin points out that the machine may never know if a user is, for instance, in a bad mood because his boss bawled him out that afternoon. And even if the machine did know, would it be best to recommend a pointed comedy — "Horrible Bosses," anyone? — or maybe some escapism, a la "Pulp Fiction"?

Such problems will keep the engineers busy for years.

"We should go very far with analyzing behavior and trying to help our users find something great to watch," Yellin said. "It's never going to be that utopian, but we'll keep striving for it."
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TV Review
‘Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink’
By Brian Lowry, - Nov. 28, 2014

“Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink” is an alarming title, but given the cottage industry and political interests built around denying climate science, desperate times call for extraordinary appellations. Actually, beyond its name, this is an extremely solid documentary, detailing two of the five mass-extinction events that have occurred in the planet’s history, and making a fairly compelling case regarding present trends. Narrated by Jeffrey Wright, this isn’t the week’s most uplifting hour, but it might be one the members of the Environment and Public Works Committee — or at least likely new Republican chair James Inhofe — should be required to watch.

Cramming a lot of science into an hour, the project makes good use of computer animation and other graphics to illustrate the K/T Extinction, the asteroid strike that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago; and the Great Dying, which claimed even more species 250 million years ago.

Scientist Sean B. Carroll serves as a guide through the research, enlisting various colleagues in what essentially plays like a jigsaw puzzle, involving theory pieced together from the fossil and geologic record.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence, however, comes near the end, when paleontologist Anthony Barnosky suggests a sixth event is already in motion, exploring changes in the atmosphere and a loss of habitat that are hastening the disappearance of species.

Climate change has admittedly become a favorite issue in Hollywood circles — see Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously” — and one that conservatives are fond of deriding. Their favorite rejoinder, “I’m not a scientist,” clearly reflects little interest in scientific consensus and what the vast majority of climatologists have to say on the matter.

In its title and tone, “Mass Extinction” is obviously intended to be provocative, but like hunting for fossils, scraping away the surface reveals a serious discussion of a topic that many wish would just go away. Of course, on the chance these eggheads know what they’re talking about, who or what might be disappearing, and when, is really the whole point.

'Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink'
Smithsonian Channel, Sun. Nov. 30, 8 p.m.
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TV Notes
‘Matador’ Cancelled By El Rey Network After One Season
By Nellie Andreeva, - Nov. 28, 2014

Robert Rodriguez‘s El Rey Network has opted not to move forward with a second season of its original action drama series Matador. Launched in July, following the World Cup, Matador starred Gabriel Luna as a DEA agent recruited by the CIA to go undercover as a professional soccer player. The series, whose 13-episode first season ended its run in October, was created by Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman, with Rodriguez directing the opening hour. I hear Matador, an expensive production shot in Los Angeles and backed by El Rey, did OK in its U.S. run. But the series, described as a Latino take on James Bond, did not do as well as its producers had hoped internationally where its sales were soft despite a strong initial interest, leading to the decision not to proceed with Season 2.

“Ultimately it was a business decision but to be clear, we were very proud of the series on every level-creatively it hit the mark and we are gratified that it celebrated diversity in front of the cameras and behind the scenes,” El Rey said in a statement. “We want to thank everyone involved, from the extraordinarily talented cast and crew to the amazing production team. We appreciate all that they have done and look forward to the opportunity to work with them in the future.”

Matador, which starred Luna, Alfred Molina, Nicky Whelan and Neil Hopkins, was El Rey’s second original scripted series. The first, Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, already has been renewed for a second season.
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